Investment adds bite to County Durham dental franchise's development plans

A £400,000 investment into Dentist Direct will help the franchise expand across the UK

Left to right, Craig Huntingdon, MD of Dentist Direct; Chris Parker of NEL Fund Managers; Neville Bearpark and Alan Suggett of UNW; John Nicholson of Mincoffs; and Ben Williamson of Clive Owen & Co
Left to right, Craig Huntingdon, MD of Dentist Direct; Chris Parker of NEL Fund Managers; Neville Bearpark and Alan Suggett of UNW; John Nicholson of Mincoffs; and Ben Williamson of Clive Owen & Co

A dental franchising firm is set to open practices under its own brand after securing £400,000 in external investment.

Set up in 2012, Durham-headquartered Dentist Direct’s operations have grown steadily, with five practices now on its books across the UK.

The company offers design-led, family friendly practices and works with dentists to provide them with the resources they need to set themselves up in practice, as well as give ongoing support.

It currently has practices running under its own brand in Colchester and Milton Keynes, and is looking at locations for its first such practices in the North East, with a further eight sites already under consideration elsewhere in the country.

To provide the working capital to action its development plans, Dentist Direct worked with regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers to bring in a £400,000 investment from the Finance For Business North East Growth Fund.

UNW and Mincoffs acted as advisors to Dentist Direct on the investment, while Bond Dickinson and Clive Owen & Co supported NEL Fund Managers. Further bank finance has also been secured by Dentist Direct to help fund future practice acquisitions.

The firm has identified more than 400 places across the UK as potential locations for practices, based on the demographics of each local area and the way in which dental services are currently provided there.

The business concept has constructed around detailed research into exactly what people want from a modern dental practice, with areas ranging from exceptional customer service, car parking and convenient opening hours all rated alongside cost, clinical excellence and the latest dental technologies.

In addition to the firm’s practice-based work, it has also developed a ‘modular pod’ which can be rolled out in locations such as supermarket and retail park car parks.

Craig Huntingdon, chief executive at Dentist Direct, said: “Our aim with Dentist Direct was to move away from the traditional style of dentistry and respond to what patients told us they wanted to see in terms of facilities, access and treatment.

“We’ve invested in the latest Waterlase technology, meaning that our dentists often don’t need to use drills or needles as well as providing easy car parking and offering comfortable, modern environments in which people can enjoy complimentary refreshments and wi-fi.

“The franchised practices have all grown extremely quickly, which suggests that both patients and dentists recognise the quality of our approach, and the investments we’ve made in each practice are working as well as we’d expected.

“We’re already successfully trading under our own brand in the south of England, and believe the North East offers many opportunities to create a base from which we can establish this very successful formula right across the UK.

“I couldn’t speak more highly of the work done by the NEL team around this investment – they acted openly and transparently, and it always felt like they were on our side in wanting to get the deal done.”

Chris Parker, investment executive at NEL Fund Managers, added: “The commercial and consumer appeal of the Dentist Direct concept has already been proven, and supporting its roll out across the North East and beyond offered us a very strong investment opportunity.”

Alan Suggett, Dental Business Unit partner at UNW, said: “The investment by NEL and provision of acquisition finance by Yorkshire Bank demonstrates the underlying strength of the innovative Dentist Direct business plan.

“Dentist Direct’s unique approach to its market both in terms of its marketing and acquisition strategy set it aside from some of the more established Dental groups, and we are sure Craig and the team can make their mark on this sector.”

Ben Williamson, associate director with Clive Owen Corporate Finance, who led the due diligence for NEL, said: “It has been great to support NEL in their latest equity investment from this fund. We have specialist due diligence experience within our team meaning we can deliver clear and authoritative advice to investors, and by focusing on specific areas of importance to NEL, we were able to provide the comfort they needed to get the deal done quickly.”

Jo Goldwater, associate at Bond Dickinson LLP, said: “We’re very happy to have assisted NEL in this exciting investment and to have made a small contribution to putting bright smiles on thousands of faces!”

John Nicholson, corporate partner at Mincoffs, said: “We have acted for Dentist Direct since its inception and are pleased to play a part in raising these funds, which will allow them to continue their already successful expansion.”

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